Aaron O’Reilly traded in a badge and boat for a desk and an office when he transitioned from being a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission law enforcement officer to general manager at Go Pull-It, a self-serve used auto parts salvage yard.
The Jacksonville native is a graduate of Fletcher High School and studied psychology at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. After receiving his degree, he went to the Fish and Wildlife Academy in Tallahassee.
For almost five years, O’Reilly worked for Fish and Wildlife in Palm Beach. He met his wife, Morgan, while working in South Florida. The couple got married and moved back to Jacksonville where he worked for the commission for a few more years.
“(I) got to see and do just about everything you could, from immigrant landings to people coming over from the Bahamas with duffle bags full of cocaine, to everything in between,” O’Reilly said of his years with the commission.
Primarily, his job was to enforce fish and wildlife laws for both commercial and recreational fisherman.
A friend who knew O’Reilly was looking to make a career change told him about the general manager position with Go Pull-It.
O’Reilly met owners Jason Finley and Brian Shell and the trio “hit it off,” he said.
Accepting the position was an easy decision.
O’Reilly has a fondness for entrepreneurs, having worked for his father who owned and operated his own business for several years. He said it was a natural transition for him.
“I thought it was a pretty awesome opportunity to get with these guys and open this business and run it for them,” O’Reilly said. “And it’s been successful.”
In the beginning, O’Reilly learned about the business from the ground up — helping do everything from taking deliveries of equipment to organizing contractors and overseeing equipment installation.
He also acquired the first 1,500 or so cars and hired employees.
Go Pull-It, which opened in September 2013, has 20 employees, including O’Reilly.
If there’s one similarity between his day-to-day activities as a conservation officer and his role as a general manager, it’s dealing with people –– whether it’s employees, customers or vendors.
The company is split into three sub-businesses that work independently but are dependent on each other: salvage, vehicle acquisition and retail. As general manager, O’Reilly oversees them all.
For the salvage business, items that can be sold are extracted from the vehicles, such as copper and catalytic converters, which have precious metals in them including platinum, palladium, rhodium and gold.
The salvage industry is actually a very old business, O’Reilly said. “It’s been around since Ford starting making Model T’s,” he said.
An acquisition team is responsible for purchasing the vehicles. On a good day, O’Reilly says, the team brings in 40 to 50 cars. On average, 1,300 to 1,500 cars are available for the public to pull parts.
The sprawling, 25-acre salvage yard is a virtual smorgasbord of vehicles, categorized according to make or vehicle type: Chrysler, GM, Ford, imports and a general category comprised of trucks, vans and SUVs.
The oldest vehicle in the yard is a 1954 Willys Jeep the company bought a few years ago; the newest is a 2016 Ford Focus.
Vehicles are neatly stacked in rows upon repurposed steel wheels that have been welded together to serve as stands. Having the vehicles elevated makes it easier for customers to pull the parts they need.
Once customers have pulled all the parts from a vehicle, it is moved to the car crusher. From there, the cars are crushed, stacked and taken to a local vehicle shredder.
“Ninety-seven percent of the vehicle gets recycled,” O’Reilly said.
In fact, there are only two small dumpsters on the property and most of its contents are trash left in the vehicles by previous owners.
Keeping up with inventory and profitability of the business are chief among O’Reilly’s responsibilities, along with ensuring employee safety and making sure customer service needs are met.
Numbers are closely monitored. There are several white boards around the office with numbers and lists jotted on them to serve as a visual reminder to him and the employees of the goals that need to be met.
“We’re always trying to improve the business,” O’Reilly said. “We’re always trying to make things better.”